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Fictional Setup and Narrativist Play

December 25, 2009

I’ve been slowly turning a setting idea over and over in my head and realized what I was missing with it:

For Narrativist play, this is what you need in Situation for play:

1) Fictional reasons for the conflict (A struggle for the Throne, kids trapped in a podunk town, demons eating your soul, whatever)
2) Characters with motivations based in human nature or ideals that drive them further into that conflict (Patriotism, desire for freedom, unrequited love, a struggle with addiction, etc.)

This is why stuff like Lady Blackbird and con demos can work really well with minimal Setting – the immediate Situation and Character are already clicked together to work this combo. As it stands now, most rpgs use really in-depth Setting to try to provoke and inspire groups to design good Situation and Character.

Although a lot of 90’s game design started doing a good job with that (one thing Whitewolf excelled at- using splats both for conflict and to epitomize ideals and thematic stances), the payoff of the setup is in play- what the character chooses and faces and becomes.

If the game which you are playing isn’t set up to accept those choices and changes, eventually players stop bothering even trying to have their characters have meaningful changes.

It atrophies and falls away, much like Vincent’s comment on decoupled mechanics and fiction. All the cries about “How do I make my players create ‘good’ characters?” is moot if the gameplay doesn’t allow those characters to be expressed.

Anyway, just make sure when you’re putting together settings, to include both the fictional source of conflict AND hooks for players to develop characters with motivations and ideals about that conflict. And when it comes time to play, make sure everyone at the table has that going on with their characters.

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